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Old Screeds

Hot Dogs -- Armor Hot Dogs [14 June 07] What kind of PCs are armor hot dogs?

The armor table in the Dungeons and Dragons Players Handbook (or here in the SRD) is somewhat misleading. It includes the stats for base armors, but who wears base armor? No one! Everyone past second or third level wears masterwork armor, or, what's often even better, mithril armor. So in my revised armor table, I give the statistics for masterwork armor (MW) and mithril armor (Mith). Magic armor adds enhancement bonuses to AC, but the stats are unchanged from those below.

  GP Check Spell AC Dex Total
Light Armor            
MW Padded 155 0 5% 1 8 9
MW Leather 160 0 10% 2 6 8
MW Studded 175 0 15% 3 5 8
MW Chain shirt 250 -1 20% 4 4 8
Mith Chain shirt 1,100 0 10% 4 6 10
Mith Scale mail 4,050 -1 15% 4 5 9
Mith Chainmail 4,150 -2 20% 5 4 9
Mith Breastplate 4,200 -1 15% 5 5 10
Celestial Armor 22,400 -2 15% 5 8 13
Medium Armor            
MW Hide 165 -2 20% 3 4 7
MW Scale mail 200 -3 25% 4 3 7
MW Chainmail 300 -4 30% 5 2 7
MW Breastplate 350 -3 25% 5 3 8
Mith Splint 9,200 -4 30% 6 2 8
Mith Banded 9,250 -3 25% 6 3 9
Mith Half-plate 9,600 -4 30% 7 2 9
Mith Full plate 10,500 -3 25% 8 3 11
Heavy Armor            
MW Splint 350 -6 40% 6 0 6
MW Banded 400 -5 35% 6 1 7
MW Half-plate 750 -6 40% 7 0 7
MW Full plate 1,650 -5 35% 8 1 9
MW Buckler 165 0 5% 1 1
MW Lt iron shield* 159 0 5% 1 1
MW Hvy iron shield* 170 -1 15% 2 2
MW Tower shield 180 -9 50% 4 2 4**
Mith Buckler 1,165 0 0% 1 1
Mith Lt shield 1,159 0 0% 1 1
Mith Hvy shield 1,020 0 5% 2 2
*Subtract 6 gp for light wood shield; 13 for heavy wood shield.
**Max Dex Bonus with Tower Shields is +2. (not included)
In the table above, "GP" is the cost in gold; "Check" is the armor check penalty to certain skills; "Spell" is the arcane spell failure chance; "AC" is the armor bonus that the armor grants to AC; "Dex" is the maximum allowed contribution from dexterity allowed with that armor; and "Total" is the sum of armor bonus and max dex bonus.

Let me offer a few notes directly on the table, and then discuss briefly the implications for maxing your AC.

  • For those who want to use other unusual armors, treat dragonhide and adamantine as masterwork for the purposes of armor stats, and treat darkwood shields as masterwork, but with an extra 2 subtracted from the shields' armor check penalties.

  • Keep in mind that the maximum dexterity bonus only applies to armor. If you have an 18 dex with a +4 bonus, but you are using a tower shield, then your dexterity contribution to AC tops out at +2, but your reflex save bonus, for example, is still +4.

  • In general, the better the armor bonus, the better the armor, so long as your current dex AC bonus is not clipped by the maximum value allowed. For example, if you have a 16 dex (granting a +3 bonus), then a masterwork breastplate or mithril full plate are among the best options for you. That may change if you have special needs, such as wearing only light armor, or if you are an arcanist or a druid, for example.

  • Note that mithril small shields and bucklers have a ZERO percent arcane failure chance. It is hard to imagine an arcane caster who should not have one. It's only a +1 bonus to AC, you might say, while my Shield spell grants a +4. Well, a shield you're wearing is better than the spell you have not had a chance to cast when you are surprised, or when your shield spells for the day are gone. And at higher levels, when you can afford it, a +3 mithril buckler grants a +4 to AC, and a buckler with a +4 or a +5 bonus tops that. Sorcerers and bards who don't want to waste a known spell on Shield -- or specialist wizards who have refused Abjuration spells and can't -- will especially appreciate the mithril buckler. Also, if your DM allows it, a mithril caster's shield is a sweet option.

  • For an arcane trickster or other sneaky mage, it may be worth it to suck down the 5 percent spell failure chance wearing padded armor, not because the +1 armor bonus helps your AC so much, but because you can hang enhancement bonuses on the armor, and even better, bonuses to your skills through the shadow, silent moves, and slick special abilities for armor.

  • Druids, limited to nonmetallic armors, have limited options. A ranger/druid or bard/druid, sticking to light nonmetallic armor, is most likely wearing leather, unless your DM lets you wear dragonhide studded leather. A barbarian/druid, limited to medium and light armor, is probably wearing hide, unless she has a +6 dex bonus, in which case leather armor is better, or a +8 bonus, in which case padded armor is actually best of all. Wood shields are a no brainer, except for druid/bards, who may choose not to suffer the arcane spell failure chance.

Now, there are two paths to consider in approaching the optimal AC while wearing armor. One path uses a high dexterity in conjuction with a medium armor bonus granted by light armor. The other uses a minimal contribution from dexterity with the highest armor bonuses possible. The key is the combination of max dex allowed plus armor bonus -- the column marked "Total" in the table. Here are details on each path.

The Low-Dex Path -- This is the traditional route: just buy the heaviest armor you can find and buckle it on. A tower shield grants a +4 bonus to AC (and you can use it for total cover as a standard action). Full plate grants a +8 bonus to AC, for a total of +12. With the allowed +1 dex bonus, that rises to +13, and if you are wearing mithril full plate, the dex bottleneck is the tower shield's +2 allowed dex bonus, for a total of +14 (8+2+4). By the way, you can't make a mithril tower shield because tower shields are made of wood, and wood objects don't translate into mithril.

The High-Dex Path -- But the full plate plus tower shield option does not grant you the best AC in the core rules. Celestial armor grants a +5 armor bonus and allows up to a +8 dex bonus, for a total of +13! Add in a +2 heavy shield for a total of +15, which beats the low-dex path's +14. Of course, to make that work, you need a 26 dex score, and the wherewithal to buy celestial armor. Before you can afford that, consider the mithril chain shirt and the mithril breastplate, both with combined dex and ac bonuses of +10, or +12 with heavy shield. Use the shirt if you can muster the needed 22 dex for a +6 dex bonus, since it offers an armor check penalty of 0; otherwise the breastplate is a sweet option. A heavy shield is a good complement, or a light one or a buckler if you are a bard seeking that 0 percent arcane fail chance.

I'll go into detail on these two paths in my upcoming screeds, including race, class, and prestige class options that work best with each.

This is part of an extended series on Survivability in Dungeons and Dragons.

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